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Star Trek Into Darkness review

Tuesday 23 Apr 2013 3:19 p.m.

The first human face we see in Star Trek Into Darkness is New Zealand’s very own Karl Urban. It’s a nice, surreal moment – but one that doesn’t take you out of the magic of the film. Karl isn’t Karl the Kiwi; he’s Bones, Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy. And this moment alone is enough to make you forgive one of the most ridiculous movie titles in recent memory.

Technically, Into Darkness is the 12th Star Trek movie. But let’s be realistic: this is part two, because JJ Abrams created an entirely new beast when he released Star Trek four years ago. That film turned Trek from a talky, far-away-in-space narrative to a much more accessible action film, complete with lens flares and cool/handsome/hilarious crew members. Some people hated that film. Going on the box office: loads of people loved it. New fans were made. New Trekkies were born.

I was part of the first audience in the world to see Into Darkness in Sydney. The film was so new the credits hadn’t been properly completed. Other than that, it was the final deal. A representative from Paramount Pictures politely asked that we didn’t reveal any major spoilers in our reviews, and I’m not going to. It’s a much more enjoyable ride that way for all of us.

If you were to put it bluntly, Into Darkness is more of what we saw in 2009. It’s a riveting action-adventure in space, complete with interpersonal relationships. The bro-mance between Kirk and Spock is in full force here. Grown men cry. And yes, it looks like a JJ Abrams film. There’s the lens flare, and the camera tracking a crashing spaceship might as well be a bigger version of the plane from the LOST pilot. Smoke billows and it all feels very real, like you could reach out and touch it.

What this film has over 2009’s Star Trek is Benedict Cumberbatch. Now, Cumberbatch fans are similar to fans of Sam or Dean from TV’s Supernatural; they obsess over him. Many write fan fiction. In this case, it’s fair enough because Cumberbatch is awesome. He’s a bad guy. I’m not going to say what bad guy, neither confirming nor denying the K-theory – and he’s an excellent villain. He out-bads Eric Bana. He’s handsome, strong, threatening and utterly convincing as a hugely smart adversary to Kirk and his team. He steals the show, possessing a voice eerily similar to that of Patrick Stewart.

As for the Enterprise, the crew from 2009 (well, 2233) is back, including Scotty’s wee, oyster-faced alien friend. I loved that little man, and am so pleased he/it has returned. There’s another member that joins the Star Trek team, played by Alice Eve. She’s the blonde, blue-eyed equivalent of Chris Pine, but somehow less interesting. Meanwhile, Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are still in love, Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is still stressed, Sulu (John Cho) is still looking earnest, and Scotty (Simon Pegg) is still affecting a very heavy accent with more “I cannae [sic] do that” than you can shake a warp core at.

Plot-wise, I don’t want give much away, apart from the fact that Cumberbatch’s character is ex-Starfleet and seems intent on waging war on his old mates. Chris Pine and co set out to stop him. It may seem obvious, but it’s important to note Into Darkness is a dark film.

Acts of terrorism take place from early in the picture, and seeing buildings tumble on a huge scale is always going to be unpleasant into today’s environment. In the world of the film – some key scenes taking place right here on Earth – it makes the stakes high and the ride more engaging. Star Trek’s ultimate premise has always been an uplifting, positive one – humankind of all shapes, sizes and colour banding together to explore and bring peace. Here that mission is more crucial than ever.

The fact large actions scenes involving Star Fleet toys take place on planet Earth (San Francisco and London) is also important in that it gives a tremendous sense of scale. Sure, we saw the USS Enterprise being built on Earth in the last film, but seeing it rising up meters away from people staring in awe makes the audience feel awe too. Star Trek was always about big concepts. Here, the mechanics feel big, too. Don’t get me wrong, the stuff in space is awesome too. There’s a thrilling chase while ships are going at warp speed that’s incredibly well executed, and made the rather alien concept of warp speed seem almost believable. But seeing the ships in the context of tiny humanity is really something this film amps up to 100.

And you know what? As dark as it is, it’s fun. You could liken JJ’s Trek films to the Iron Man films, although again, this is darker territory here – a perfect blend of action, humanity and humour. At one moment, I became annoyed by Bones’ puns – one rolling in after another. The moment I had that thought, Kirk interrupts, telling Bones he’ll boot him off the ship if he continues. 

And like Bones, you don’t want to be booted off this ride. This is a lovely sci-fi action film. Chances are, it won’t hit you as hard as the 2009 film, but it further develops the characters you know and it feels a little as though you’re coming home.

As for the hardcore fans (I’m somewhere in between – TNG was my thing growing up), I think you’ll like it. I saw Into Darkness with the president of AusTrek, the Australian Star Trek Club. Afterwards, he was grinning ear to ear.

Afterthoughts:

1. There’s one thing I want to say but don’t know where to say it. Do the aliens at the beginning of the film look exactly like the naked engineers from Prometheus, or is that just me? I blame Damon Lindelof.

2. Star Trek Into Darkness – is that a sentence, or is there some kind of invisible pause that makes “Into Darkness” the tagline? I sat down with director JJ Abrams after seeing the film to clarify. He says there is a pause there, but he just gets sick of seeing colons in movie titles.

3. I haven’t seen the 3D version yet. I want to. Moments of the 2D screening were obviously meant for 3D, and I want to see them.

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